The importance of variation in offspring body size for stability in cannibalistic populations

Ohlberger, Jan; Langangen, Øystein; Winfield, Ian J.; Vindenes, Yngvild. 2020 The importance of variation in offspring body size for stability in cannibalistic populations. Oikos, 129 (1). 59-69.

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Animals exhibit remarkable intraspecific variation in phenotypic traits such as body size. Understanding how such trait variation affects population and ecosystem dynamics is critically important, because future environmental change and human impacts are expected to alter phenotypic trait distributions. In species with seasonal reproduction, offspring size variation within cohorts is ubiquitous, yet we know little about its implications for population stability. In addition, long‐term monitoring data indicate that changes in offspring size variation occur at ecologically relevant time scales. Here, we study the consequences of changing offspring size variation by developing and analysing an integral projection model (IPM). Our model accounts for size‐dependent cannibalism as well as additional density regulation occurring during the first year. The model is parameterized using literature values and long‐term monitoring data for pike Esox lucius, a common fish predator in temperate freshwater ecosystems, but the general model structure applies to a wide range of size‐structured organisms. Our analyses demonstrate that a wide size distribution of offspring promotes stable dynamics, whereas narrow distributions can be destabilizing because cannibalism increases the annual variation in mean offspring mortality. Our results indicate that the stabilizing effect of offspring size variation is likely an important property of size‐structured organisms with seasonal reproduction and cannibalistic behaviour. This work highlights the importance of intracohort trait variation and describes how variation in body size can shape the dynamics of animal populations.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Water Resources (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0030-1299
Additional Keywords: integral projection model, intraspecific interactions, trait variation
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 13 Nov 2019 17:27 +0 (UTC)

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